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Gainesville High School volleyball team COVID outbreak causes worry
The Gainesville Sun - 10/28/2020
Oct. 28--A COVID-19 outbreak among the Gainesville High School volleyball team has boosted the school's number of cases and heightened concern among employees districtwide that the infection may be on the verge of spreading widely.
GHS Principal David Shelnutt alerted parents and guardians to the outbreak in a Monday email. He also wrote that an employee -- the school's second since Aug. 17 -- has tested positive.
Meanwhile, the Alachua County Education Association -- the employee union -- in a Tuesday email mourned the death of bus driver Ricky Davis. He is the second bus driver to have died from COVID-19.
The volleyball team will end its season early because of the outbreak, Shelnutt said in the email.
"Currently, five of our varsity players have tested positive over the past two days. Most of these students were last on campus on Friday, October 23," Shelnutt said. "The entire varsity team was quarantined this weekend. Others are waiting for test results. The team was set to play in the state regional semifinals this week, but will unfortunately have to pull out of the playoffs."
The latest data on the school district's COVID-19 dashboard shows GHS as having 21 students and two staffers as having tested positive since Aug. 17. The school has 17 active cases.
That total includes the GHS volleyball players, said district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson.
Johnson added that data on the dashboard reflects only students attending classes at school buildings. Any infected students who are taking classes through the district's digital academy are not included.
Exceptions are made when academy students play sports or come on campus for other reasons, such as taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Santa Fe High has 12 active cases of the virus. Newberry does not now have any, but just a couple weeks ago had up to 25. Curiously, the remaining high schools have had much fewer cases -- Hawthorne Junior/Senior has had a total of four, Buchholz has had eight and Eastside, four.
The discrepancy is even greater when the percentage of students doing in-person versus digital learning is considered.
GHS, for instance, has 880 students at the campus and 942 in the digital academy while Buchholz has 1,318 on campus and 927 in the digital academy.
About 50% of the student cases are sports related and all schools are supposed to follow the same protocols in athletics and general campus settings, Johnson said.
It doesn't appear district officials are trying to figure out if the schools that have relatively low numbers are doing anything differently than those with levels three times higher.
"It could be as simple as somebody going to a party with their friends on a weekend that could generate additional cases," Johnson said. "A lot of that has to do with what is happening beyond what is going on on the football field."
Johnson said the district is aware of students who have tested positive who were exposed by infected family members and boyfriends and girlfriends.
A GHS employee who contacted The Sun said about 100 students are quarantined, adding that new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are not being followed.
"When is enough, enough," the staffer said. "We have a COVID outbreak at this school and the superintendent needs to take action. This school needs to be quarantined."
The dashboard on Wednesday reported that 248 students and staff countywide are on quarantine this week.
It is also reporting a total of 116 student infections and 63 among staff since Aug. 17.
Teachers' Union President Carmen Ward said many employees are frightened in their workplace and are concerned about allowing sports competition to continue.
Infected athletes can be creating superspreader situations while playing and on campus when interacting with staff and other students, Ward said.
Ward added that teachers are reporting they have too many students in their classroom to meet social distancing guidelines of staying 6 feet apart.
"I just spoke to a fourth grade teacher today that has 24 children, so they are even above the class-size limits. Those kids are three feet from each other," Ward said Wednesday. "My phone rang off the hook yesterday with people upset about COVID quarantines, COVID cases, people who think they were exposed and endangered and not being told to quarantine. We're in about the 40th day of school and have 177 cases. That seems pretty alarming."
Johnson said the district has a scientific medical advisory council that reviews COVID-19 in the schools and makes recommendations for changes.
The district also coordinates with the Alachua County Health Department on protective measures. CDC guidelines also are followed, Johnson said.
"We are following all of the protocols that our medical experts have been providing us. We work with them on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We have a very aggressive testing protocol. The (scientific council) is on top of this and if they feel that circumstance warrant changes, they are making those recommendations and we do it."
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